Facebook Twitter

Advocacy group for the blind warns against silent cars

SHARE Advocacy group for the blind warns against silent cars

SALT LAKE CITY — Being pro-noise in a deafening world and less than enthusiastic about going green — at least when it comes to electric or hybrid automobiles — might sound like the height of political incorrectness, but to be otherwise would just be wrong, according to the largest and oldest advocacy group for the blind.

At its two-day convention this weekend, members of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah endorsed a bill in Congress, HR734, that would require electric-car makers to make more noise.

The federation absolutely favors efforts to go green and take better care of the environment, including having cars that don't pollute or are so dependent on oil, Ron Gardner, president of the federation's Utah chapter, said Saturday evening prior to a speech to the 400 attendees by Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson and an annual award ceremony.

"The problem is electric cars are quiet," Gardner said. "We don't advocate adding noise to life, but we depend on noise and sound cues as a matter of survival, literally. We don't want to be impacted by silent cars," he added, emphasizing that no pun was intended.

The duration, loudness and type of alarm to be included in electric cars are yet to be determined, Gardner said, noting that the Utah delegation is the first nationwide to co-sponsor the legislation, which could begin committee review as early as next week.

A commission would be set up as part of the bill to answer those and many other questions, Gardner said.

"We have construction vehicles that beep to warn a driver is backing up," Gardner said. "There is no warning for an oncoming car; a truck is only traveling about 1 or 2 mph at the most. These silent cars can be going upwards of 30 mph in a city street corner situation."

Numerous stories of near-hits by electric and hybrid cars are becoming an everyday occurrence, Gardner said. Any sighted person who has been in a parking garage can attest they are very hard to hear coming, he said.

This is an issue of keeping people going to work and interacting in the day-to-day world that must be looked at carefully and solved, he said, adding that adding alarms is no greater issue than figuring out curb cuts and ramps for disabled people in wheelchairs.

"The issue speaks to the main goal of the federation — building self-confidence and independence," Gardner said. "We promote skills and adapting to blindness as a personal responsibility but also facilitate the removal of social and literal barriers to do so."

Another key issue discussed at the conference was recent studies that indicate the earlier someone who is blind or going blind learns braille the far greater the chance of achieving education goals and finding a job and the independence that comes with it, Gardner said.

Gov. Gary Herbert, who gave the luncheon address Saturday, said Utah is doing all it can to build a world-class system of education in Utah.

"We're all for that as well," Gardner said. But that won't happen without including blind children, 10 percent of whom are illiterate.

The state, through the state School for the Blind and programs to help increase living and working skills, needs to rethink attitudes about the learning tool 90 percent of blind people who work use — braille.

"The fact is if someone is losing their vision, and you delay the learning of braille until that person has completely lost their sight, we are dooming them to a life of illiteracy," Gardner said.

To that end, the federation is constantly in search of scholarship funding. It awarded 18 scholarships this weekend. Anyone who would like to help is invited to donate.

"We absolutely will see it used to its fullest potential," he said. "Blind people are like anyone else — just working toward and making the best of opportunities."

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com